I'VE HAD JUST ABOUT ENOUGH OF YOU SONNY
One Play. I got really into this piece by Brhino where he went over Michigan football seasons going back to the "Year of Infinite Pain" (i.e. 2005) to point out games where one play may have meant the difference. Interesting way to reassess how we view the seasons. For example this year's team was a couple things going right away from 11-1 and a BCS bid (MSU would have still have won the Bo Division, with BCS eligibility riding on that), and a couple of things going wrong away from 4-8. I chart:
Bicking makes it cligger.
Quibble: I may be stretching "one play" too far, but Football Armageddon had that late hit out of bounds by Crable on 3rd and 15. OSU scored on that drive to go up 10. Who knows if Michigan can drive the ball the same as they did on the next possession. NFL win probability calculator says OSU was 79% to win if Crable doesn't make that hit, and 91% after the call. Fan brain says Michigan would have drove for the victory, beaten essentially the same Florida team they played the following year, and cured cancer.
Trend Lines. If you're into seeing how the rest of the Big Ten progressed on offense as this season did, dnak followed up last week's Michigan chart with some for the rest of the field. MSU is a young offense slowly growing up, Michigan's is one coached by insane people.
Hypothesis: UConn was just a bad game and the coaches over-responded to it, putting themselves behind the 8-ball the rest of the season. I submit as a different model Penn State, which had more than a few personnel shortages but big talent in places and stuck with their scheme all year, seeing noticeable progression but no spikes until the last game.
Goals! The Corsi Charts have been shelved for the moment so MGoBlueline can do those goal analysis things I like much better anyway:
Compher wins the faceoff, which is huge. Even more important, however, is that DeBlois is able to tie his man up. This allows a clean tap across from Compher to Guptill…
The OSU weekend's tallies at the link.
Charity. Tomorrow is Adopt-a-Shelter and both sites still could use some volunteers. K.o.k.Law had a tailgate at the house next door to MGoPatio, the cause being to fix up the house of an 11-year-old with a terrible illness.
Weeklies. Turnover Analysis talked about the Countess interception, which had a negative result of half a point. I still would have taken it; I think Furman stood there amazed for a second while OSU's receivers recovered, and if he hadn't he was in the exact right spot to make a key block. Turnover margin has been steadily climbing to the good since UConn, though the offense going into a shell to make that happen might have negated the good that's done. Inside the Box Score. Best and Worst talks about Ben Gedeon. LSA's usual stuff.
[Jump to learn an important lesson about swearing.]
After Jabrill Peppers announced his intention to take official visits, multiple outlets speculated that this brewing storm could very well blow over by the time Peppers has finished taking his official to Ann Arbor next weekend. According to Mike Farrell, that appears to be the case ($):
Paramus (N.J.) Paramus Catholic cornerback Jabrill Peppers made a huge splash last week when he tweeted that he was going to take official visits despite his commitment to Michigan. Now the word is that Peppers will take his official visit to Michigan on Dec. 13 with his mom and that will likely end the process. Alabama appeared to be the biggest threat to the Wolverines, but now I hear that most close to Peppers want him to stick to his word and play in Ann Arbor. Stanford was the only school everyone green lit and that apparently isn't going to happen this late. Michigan coaches will be on hand en force this Friday for Peppers' final game and then the following weekend I expect them to close things out on his official. Crisis averted barring a surprise.
Further corroboration comes from Peppers himself, who contemplated his future Michigan uniform number on Twitter yesterday:
— Breezy (@JabrillPeppers) December 5, 2013
In this case, the (mis)use of "Big Blue" is completely forgiven. The important part is Peppers wanting to follow in Charles Woodson's footsteps.
THIS CALLS FOR A FEAST.
Coach Hoke had a nice feast with the Mone family last night for his in-home visit. pic.twitter.com/DaKu7m8S0q
— Steve Lorenz (@TremendousUM) December 4, 2013
Forks are for spread enthusiasts, anyway.
[Hit THE JUMP for the latest on Malik McDowell's top schools and visit plans, the 2014 running back situation, visit reactions from The Game, and more.]
Central Michigan (6-6, 5-3 MAC)
Since we last spoke: Central Michigan 37, UMass 0; Central Michigan 42, Eastern 10
Pre-season Fear Level: None.
Hindsight Fear Level: 2
Best Win: Ohio (26-23)
Worst Loss: UNLV (31-21)
Season Recap: Central was not a good football team this year, but damned if they didn't get to 6 wins and bowl eligibility somehow. They won 5 of their last 7 games, but their opponents in those games were a combined 11-49. Their most impressive win over Ohio (YTO). They finished 110th out of 125 teams in FEI.
Bowls. There are too many of them.
The Michigan game in hindsight: Ah, when things were fun and the offense worked and hope was a thing.
Notre Dame (8-4)
Hope sprung eternal.
Since we last spoke: Notre Dame 23, BYU 13; Stanford 27, Notre Dame 20
Pre-season Fear Level: 7.5
Hindsight Fear Level: 7
Best Win: Arizona St (37-34)
Worst Loss: Pitt (28-21)
Season Recap: Notre Dame made a strong bid for ChaosTeam '13, beating some impressive opponents (Arizona State, Michigan State, Kiffin-exorcised USC) while losing to Michigan and Pitt and ALMOST losing to Purdue. Much-maligned quarterback Tommy Rees finished just south of 3,000 yards and 27 TDs against only 13 interceptions, but completed only 53% of his passes. TJ Jones and Davaris Daniels formed a solid 1-2 punch in the receiving corp, and Cam McDaniel led a running-back-by-committee that put up 5.2 yards per carry. You just found yourself jealous of Notre Dame, didn't you? That's a bad feeling. Don't do that again. Here. This will help.
This. Always this.
Coming into the year, we expected the defense to carry a somewhat mediocre offense. Instead, the defense may have actually been the weaker unit. The offense put up 27 points and almost 400 yards per game, and scored 20 or more points in every game other than USC (when Tommy Rees was hurt) and Michigan State (when obviously). The back seven of the defense, however, never really gelled, and they finished as a middle-of-the-pack team in most advanced stats (30th in defensive FEI, 51st in Def SP+).
The Michigan game in hindsight: Once again, Notre Dame played Lucy to Michigan's Charlie Brown. DAMNIT NOTRE DAME STOP GIVING US FALSE HOPE EVERY YEAR.
[after the jump: everyone else is better than you think except Michigan and the teams who beat them]
An annual tradition: the post where I spit out a bunch of hockey thoughts right after football season ends.
Andrew Copp emoji state.
AT RIGHT: Friday night immediately after OT goal
They are going to the tournament. Michigan's fantabulous 10-2-1 record has come against a tough slate of opponents; unadjusted win percentage has M's opponent's third; the more sophisticated KRACH system has them 12th. As a result they are second in both RPI and KRACH, behind only Minnesota. They're also tied for second in the revamped Pairwise*. Unless they implode, Michigan is on pace for a bid. Hell, they're on pace for a one seed.
They are living on the edge. Michigan isn't as good as their record. Don't take it from me, take it from Red, who said something along those lines a few weeks ago. They have played only three games not decided by one goal: 3-1 over BC, 6-0 over Niagara, and 7-4 over RIT. Hooray winning one goal games and all, but:
- Michigan is 3-0-1 in five minute OT sessions.
- Their goalies have a collective .937, and that's not because every shot is from the blue line.
- Shots for and against are dead even at 428.
- Pythagorean expectation (upshot: goal differential is a better predictive metric than record) works just as well in the NHL as it does MLB, and Michigan is 7th in scoring margin, way behind the Gophers.
Who's happy with #7 in goal differential? Everybody. But they're not playing like the elite team their record and the rankings suggest. There's no denying they've had a hefty helping of fortune so far and replaying this season results in a record this good maybe 5% of the time.
The blue line is a large problem. Bennett's great; everyone else is worrisome at best. The OSU comeback Monday was a collection of gross errors from the defense corps, from Chiasson wandering out to a player behind the net without putting his stick down, thus allowing a centering pass right through him, to Downing sliding his way behind the net on a 4 on 3. On Friday, Clare threw a blind backhand pass behind his own net with three minutes left in a one goal game instead of chipping the puck out of the zone; five seconds later it was no longer a one-goal game.
With Serville hurt, Michigan turned to junior forward Andrew Sinelli as the #6 D, and my buddy and I went from panicking about this to wondering if Michigan would sit Clare in favor of him when Serville was back. Since he hardly saw a shift late Monday you'd think the answer to that is undoubtedly "no," but Spath says he's threatening Serville:
"I like his quickness," Berenson said. "He's a good skater. He goes back to get the puck and he'll win that race. He'll take a hit to make a play. And he's a defensive forward so he has good defensive instincts in our zone."
Szuma missed some time with a concussion but after a long and thorough rest, he's back at practice. It appears, though, that for now, Sinelli has won the job and he will be given every chance to compete with Serville to be the Maize and Blue's sixth defenseman.
Chiasson has apparently slid past Serville to solidify his job, which makes sense to me. Clare holding his spot without threat… not so much.
Sinelli is much defter with the puck than most of Michigan's available defensemen and surprisingly physical for a small guy. He effectively pinned a bunch of guys to the boards and didn't make any glaring errors. He could help. This is both an endorsement of Sinelli and a cocked eyebrow at the rest of the crew.
But hey Bennett. Getting any scoring from the D has been the main issue with Michigan's offense so far. They're 16th in scoring with virtually no contribution from the D. Bennett pulled both of those OSU games out of the fire, first with the great stretch pass embedded above, then with a plunge into the goal mouth to take a cross-ice pass from Chiasson(!) to complete the World's Most Dangerous Goal.
If that had rebounded such that OSU got a quick breakout that was a 3-on-1 developing with Di Giuseppe back. Yikes. But it went in, so hooray.
Guptill's penalty shot against BU is one of five goals on the year for him [Bill Rapai]
The forwards are deep with little top end. I love me some Copp and Compher, who just scored two of the dirtiest crease goals Michigan's put in since… well, it's been a while since Michigan's had a true goalmouth fiend. Those guys bring value beyond their scoring lines and both are at a PPG.
But while it seems like Di Giuseppe, Nieves, Moffatt, and Guptill is a hell of a supporting cast, not a lot is happening 5 on 5 here. Those scoring line veterans have six goals 5v5 in 13 games. That's a little disappointing. The power play, clicking at 25%, is keeping everybody afloat right now; they're going to have to get some more even strength production if they're going to keep winning games if and when the save percentage and PP come back to earth.
Speaking of clicking. The turnaround in the power play is kind of incredible. Last year their single idea was get the puck to Trouba, and this was an okay enough idea to get Michigan to 19%. The year before they were completely miserable at 15%; they were at 17% the year before. All of these numbers seemed deserved.
This year's number also seems deserved. Michigan gets much better puck movement and regularly finds guys for cross-ice bombs that have been the most effective way to put the puck in the net since NHL 94. I don't get why it's happening this year instead of previous years, but I'll take it.
Inexplicable player enthusiasm of the year. Always one guy on the team who does nothing statistically but I find a way to advocate anyway, and this year it's Zach Hyman. Hyman's 1-2-3 line is obviously bleah. I still manage to think that he's much better at coming out of the corners with a purpose than anyone else on the team and should be flanked by two skilled players to take advantage of his ability to create offense off the cycle.
He seems like a different player, even if the stats aren't showing it. Remember this if he blows up in the next 20 games. Forget it if he doesn't.
No Racine is no problem. [Bill Rapai]
Goaltending is weird. Steve Racine started Monday's game out with some shaky rebound control before righting the ship and turning in one of the best four goals allowed performances you'll see; he has a .925 this year, building on the .920 he put up in the final ten games of his freshman season. And this is nothing compared to Nagelvoort, who's putting up Hunwick numbers: .945, 1.65 GAA.
Quite a difference there… and sad to say probably not a sustainable one. Teams that manage to have those kinds of save percentages over the course of the year are generally Cornell or Ron Mason-era MSU teams that place a heavy emphasis on defense and conservatism; Michigan just scored on a cross-ice goalmouth pass from D to D. Meanwhile, the shaky defense corps is giving up a ton of Grade A opportunities, and eventually those are going to start going in unless Michigan gets it together.
Even if it's not sustainable, that's 23 consecutive games of goaltending ranging from high quality to outstanding. At some point the sample size is about as good as its going to get, and we can put the terrible memories of last year behind. That point is coming up very soon.
Is Josh Blackburn still working with Michigan's goalies as a volunteer? Can someone buy him a smoothie or something?
The rest of the league is Minnesota and poop. I fielded a couple of questions about why I was high on Minnesota instead of Wisconsin and didn't really have an answer other than "Wisconsin always does this," and Wisconsin is doing it again: they're 4-5-1 on the year and just got swept by the Gophers in their first Big Ten series; they got blown out by both Boston schools. And they're probably the third best team in the league. The rest:
- OSU is 8-6 with seven of their wins against Robert Morris, Niagara, Canisius, and BGSU (a split with UMD is the final win). They played well against Michigan but still got swept; they were swept by Miami in their first series of the year, and Miami's not that good right now.
- MSU is 5-7 with 4 wins over American International (3-8) and Princeton (3-10); they were recently swept by Michigan Tech.
- Penn State is 3-7-1 with wins over Army, Robert Morris, and Sacred Heart; they were swept by Air Force and Union.
- Minnesota leads the nation in goal differential and is rather good at hockey. They've beaten UNH and taken a three point weekend from BC, plus split against ND.
Minnesota's the heavy favorite to win the league, and Michigan should finish second. No one else is likely to make the tournament.
*[I don't have a handle on what the changes did yet. In previous years I've downplayed the Pairwise until late in the season due to its volatility, preferring RPI as a better projection of where you would finish in the PWR at the end of the year than the actual PWR. If that seems like a dumb ranking system to you, well, at least they overhauled it?]
In HTTV last year we made a strange assertion: that given the relative drop-off to their replacements, Kovacs would probably be missed more than Denard Robinson. I thought I'd pose the question now concerning this year's seniors, except there's one guy who could have gone 1st overall in the NFL draft LAST YEAR, and he's being replaced by either a member of the worst interior offensive line in Michigan memory or a guy who couldn't beat out one of those guys for playing time.
|Actually, #2 Taylor Lewan's twosie and #3 Taylor Lewan's pet pig are also out of the running. [Upchurch]|
So, OTHER than that guy,
Which senior will Michigan miss most next season?
Ace: I'll leave a couple very strong candidates aside—namely, Jeremy Gallon and Thomas Gordon—and go to the other bookend of the offensive line, Michael Schofield. Michigan already needs to get much (much) better play out of the interior of the line next year, not to mention a major step up in blocking from the backs and tight ends. Losing not just one, but two NFL-quality tackles means the Wolverines once again head into a new season with major uncertainty up front.
I expect the interior line to be better, especially since some of the true freshmen who weren't viable options this season—especially Patrick Kugler and David Dawson—should at least be ready to compete for a spot on the two-deep. Losing Schofield along with Lewan, however, means that there's almost no margin for error with the new tackles; Michigan needs to find two decent starters out of Ben Braden, Erik Magnuson, and... that's about it.
I guess Dawson could play right tackle, as could Kyle Kalis, but both are more natural fits inside. Chris Fox, coming off a major knee injury that delayed his freshman progress, and Logan Tuley-Tillman, a raw-upside prospect with a heavy emphasis on raw, probably won't be ready to step in and be very effective.
Losing Lewan hurts the most, of course; that's compounded by the absence of Schofield—who really came into his own this year—leaving Michigan with, at best, four relatively unproven players competing for two open tackle spots while the interior of the line is still very much a question mark.
[After the jump: Pining for (Scho)fields]
Duke's gameplan was obvious: don't let Nik Stauskas touch the ball, let alone shoot it, and force the rest of the Wolverines to find a way to score. Tyler Thornton and Matt Jones spent most of the game face-guarding Stauskas, limiting Michigan's leading scorer to four points—all on free throws*—on 0/2 shooting while the rest of the team faltered, save for a late push from Caris LeVert.
The 79-69 final score is rather deceptive; Duke led by double-digits for most of the game and pushed the margin as high as 18 points in the late stages, with Michigan unable to get closer than six points behind in the second half. The Wolverines scored 19 fruitless points in the final two minutes to carve eight points out of the deficit; by that time, Duke was content to keep Michigan at arm's reach with their free-throw shooting.
Simply put, this game was a major indictment of Michigan's supporting cast—at this point, it's clear that Stauskas is the offensive star, the rest playing supporting roles. Glenn Robinson III's woes on both ends of the court showed up at the worst time. He was nearly invisible offensively and ineffective when he attempted to get aggressive, scoring eight points on nine shots—with half those points coming after the game was well in hand—and failing to get to the free-throw line. He couldn't create a clean look for his jump shot or get around defenders to attack the basket. On the other end, he was pulled from the game at least once for repeated failures to box out his man, and when Michigan got lost on perimeter switches he was often involved.
Until Caris LeVert decided to put the team on his back in the second half, when he scored 20 of his team-leading 24 points, nobody else stepped up, either. Duke's aggressive hedging against the pick-and-roll made it difficult to get the ball to Mitch McGary in the post; even when he was open, the guards failed to get him the ball in good position—eight of his 15 points came in the final two minutes after Duke basically stopped boxing out. Derrick Walton had a couple very nice takes to the hoop in transition en route to seven points on 3/6 shooting; in the halfcourt, however, he couldn't facilitate the offense, tallying just one assist to three turnovers, one of which was a what-was-that pass deep into the Cameron Crazies. Zak Irvin was limited to 14 minutes and managed five points on five shots.
LeVert was certainly a bright spot in the second half, slicing his way into the lane with regularity, finishing well, and getting to the line; after going 2/5 in the first half with no free throw attempts, he shot 6/13 from the field in the latter stanza and knocked down all seven of his shots from the charity stripe. If there's one positive to take away from this game, it's his apparent willingness to be the go-to guy when Stauskas is rendered ineffective; after waiting on Robinson and McGary to be the guy, he had to step up and did so. Yes, he's occasionally overmatched by bigger players on defense; he's also very effective at the top of the 1-3-1 and is clearly the team's second-best offensive player this year.
His emergence in this game was too little, too late, unfortunately; Michigan needs more than one of their perimeter players to score consistently if they want to beat good teams, and they didn't have an answer when Duke took away Stauskas. I don't think this is a coaching issue; when an opponent is flat-out turning their back to the play and solely focusing on denying one player the ball, the rest of the offense should be able to create open looks while playing four-on-four. Aside from LeVert, nobody could manage this as Duke funneled everything inside—Michigan was 3/13 from beyond the arc—and forced the perimeter players to beat them off the dribble.
A loss to Duke at Cameron is nothing to be ashamed of, but the way this game played out should be very worrisome for Michigan. Stauskas has been identified as the main threat, and now there's a blueprint for stopping the offense cold unless someone else—not just LeVert—raises their level of play. This is still a young team that can improve dramatically over the course of the year; it's clear they're going to have to if they want to compete for a Big Ten title.
*To further emphasize how much Duke took Stauskas out of the equation, three of his four free-throw makes came after Blue Devil technical fouls, not anything he did offensively.